SPARKS artist Johanna Nuutinen: How to define large?
“After the long and arduous COVID-19 spring, the first seminar weekend of the SPARKS project was balm for the mind longing for interaction as well as for the development of our work selected for the project,” says Johanna Nuutinen.
Ideas for the performance that had been brewing during the summer had the chance to become more defined and grow deeper roots while messages were flying in our planning team’s WhatsApp group throughout the weekend inspired by the discussions with the SPARKS experts.
We have now submitted our residency application for the second phase of the project. I’m pondering what could we learn from Tanssin talo’s seminar structure and which parts of it could I offer to our team when developing new performance concepts. Would we be interested in being boldly and directly in contact with national and international operators and ask (for a fee, naturally) for consultation on carefully selected topics or mentoring also in the future?
In addition to the public seminar, we also discussed with the experts privately. These discussions offered perspective that gave breathing space for the mind and the entire creative production process. This personal aspect was extremely important especially since several international networking events have been replaced by impersonal online seminars or postponed to 2021–2022. Listening to the thoughts of fellow artists gathered in the same physical space offered also important and interesting moments of reflection.
SPARKS project seeks performance concepts for large stages. During the seminar weekend I became sensitive to the word ‘large’. On Sunday I asked: “What does ‘large’ mean in the end?” My own interpretation of this word in the production context has always been clear, but it felt good to question my own ways of thinking at this time. Although the Erkko Hall with its 700 seats has a large auditorium capacity for Finnish contemporary dance, it is, nevertheless, a mid-size stage on the international scale. This does not mean that Tanssin talo should not work hard to increase its audience base or that the surface area of the stage would not be considerable and distances in the Erkko Hall extensive.
But where is largeness located in the actual work? In a large number of performers? In large set elements and radical space planning? In a large orchestra? In a large amount of pre-production work? Sound scape resonating like a cathedral? In the personalities of artists known to large audiences or the large number of years passed since their death? Or in the ambitious thematic of the work expanding and challenging the viewer-experiencer’s thinking?
My own experiences of adapting a work created for a small space on to a three times larger stage and five times larger auditorium capacity vividly reminds me of how the work can catch flight and successfully take ownership of even these larger dimensions when the work is given enough space to breathe. In this way, a small work can grow into something larger, but the scaling might be more challenging to achieve in the other direction.
Bia Oliveira, Head of Producing & Touring at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, stated in the seminar that one should consider which aspects of the work are already familiar to the viewer-experiencer when performing a new work to larger audiences. What are the aspects of the work that will “greet” them in a friendly manner? And which part of the performance will challenge them to open themselves to new perspectives? ‘Curating’ is derived from Latin ‘curare’, which has meanings referring to caring. Bia Oliveira’s statement about the balance between familiarity and the unknown when trying to attract large audiences refers to audience-oriented care in programme planning.
I also feel that we, the artists, have been taken care of during the SPARKS seminar by the organisers. Largeness can be found in many places but, at the moment, this thought of care in the artistic work towards the partners as well as the audiences feels relevant to me as an artist regardless of the scale of the performance.
Johanna Nuutinen is a choreographer based in Helsinki. She has created stage and film works in the crossroads of visual and performing arts since 2011. In 2016 Johanna established the dance production platform Johanna Nuutinen +CO in order to support the work she creates in collaboration with a team of visionary designers and dance artists. Before deciding to become a freelancer Johanna had a successful career as a dancer with Finnish National Ballet for fifteen years.